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August 27, 2017

 

  

8.27.17                               Pentecost 12                 - Matthew 16:13-19 ESV
 
13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
 
A POSITIVE ID OF JESUS
 
During the early training of FBI agents, I’ve read, they go through a surprise test to see how keen their powers of observation are.  While sitting in a classroom, listening to one of the countless lectures they must endure, suddenly a mystery man bursts into the room, hesitates a moment, and then exits abruptly.  The students don’t know what’s going on, caught completely off guard.  Then the instructor tells them to write down a description of the intruder.  Later on each one will have to try to identify the stranger in a line-up of men roughly matching his appearance.  The test is designed to determine how good a detective the trainees would make, since many times it’s just a small detail that helps the FBI identity the suspect and eventually get their man.  
 
In our text for today, Jesus asks His disciples to identify Him, not because He wants them to be good detectives, obviously.  But they needed to know exactly who He was.  So do we.  Everyone needs A POSTIVE ID OF JESUS.  For it makes all the difference in the world.
 
The disciples had been with Jesus for over two years, it seems.  He was no flash in the pan for them, darting in and out mysteriously.  They had traveled with Him, probably camped out with Him, talked with Him, observed Him in a variety of situations.  They had witnessed His miracles, heard His parables.  If anyone should know Jesus, they should.  Now it was time to test them on what they had learned.  Caesarea Philippi was the perfect place to have this conversation because it was a city with different ideas about the pantheon of Greek and Roman gods served by various cults.  In fact there was a cave there which was thought to be the entrance to the underworld of Hades. 
 
First, Jesus asked them what the popular opinion of Him was:  “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  Now, that may sound like a leading question, like asking, “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?”  But it was a teaching technique to get them thinking in the right direction.  “Son of Man” was an Old Testament title in Daniel and Ezekiel for the Messiah, a term Jesus used to describe Himself.  Well, the disciples had been around; they had their ears to the ground.  They heard things.  The man from Galilee had caused quite a stir.  Folks were talking about Him, saying some pretty nice things about Him.  And why wouldn’t they?  Imagine how the crowds reacted when they saw a crippled man walk, a leper cleanse, a blind man gain sight, a demon cast out – or when they had been among the thousands who received food from a few loaves and fish Jesus had blessed.  They were amazed at what He could do.  Of course, Jesus already knew what the people thought of Him, but He wanted the disciples to keep in touch, to be well informed.  And apparently they were, for they replied: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”   
 
The people thought highly of Jesus; they put Him in illustrious company.  John the Baptist, we know, was the forceful preacher of repentance who recently had been executed by Herod Antipas.  There was a rumor that Herod feared that Jesus was John come back from the dead to haunt him.  Elijah, we know, was the sturdy stalwart of the Old Testament who stood up to wicked Queen Jezebel and King Ahab.  Scripture says that God took him directly to heaven in a fiery chariot.  And Malachi, the last recorded prophet, had predicted that another Elijah would be present when the Messiah appeared in Israel.  Jeremiah, we know, was the feisty spokesman for God during the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.  Tradition said he was exiled to Egypt.  All of these men were great heroes in Israel.  It was a great compliment and distinct honor to be named among them.
 
But the identification was wrong.  All of these men were just men.  The same mistake is made today.  “He’s just a man,” the popular song from Jesus Christ Superstar sings.  Most everyone would agree that no one has made as much impact on the history of the world as Jesus of Nazareth.  In western culture we date the years BC and AD, “before Christ” and  anno domini  (Latin for “in the year of the Lord”) although that’s changing to CE, “common era,” in politically correct circles.   Nonetheless, Jesus is the subject of more art, drama, literature, than anyone who ever lived.  Monumental architecture has been dedicated to His glory.  Millions of people call themselves Christian after Him.  He is admired by learned scholars who study His wisdom.  Psychologists envy His ability to understand and modify human behavior.  Educators drool over the stories He told and the object lessons He used to teach.  Yes, much praise is heaped upon Jesus.  He is lumped together with the greatest religious leaders of all time: Confucius, Buddha, Mohammed.  Surely, they suppose, Jesus would be proud of such a reputation and adulation.
 
“Phooey!”  He’d spit on it.  It’s the wrong ID.  People may come close to knowing the real Jesus, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades (and hugs), as they say, not when it comes to your eternal destiny.  You have to make a positive ID of Jesus the right way.  That’s why He pursued the point further.  Turning to the disciples He inquired: “But who do you say that I am?” 
 
Friends, this is the most important question you’ll ever be asked.  We spent ten weeks on it in the Wednesday evening forum on “Who Is Jesus?”  Each one of us must answer it correctly for ourselves.  It’s not enough to repeat the slogans of the church, even to recite the creeds absent-mindedly.  It doesn’t work to merely repeat what Mom and Dad believed.  What do you think?  Who is Jesus?  Can you positively identify Him?
 
Peter did.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”   He spoke for the group without hesitation.  The terms indicate that he knew who Jesus was and what He was here to do.  Jesus was the Son of the living God, not just a son of a god in mythology, but He lived with God from all eternity.  He was also a human being, born in the world of a virgin mother.  So He was the God-man, the fullness of the Godhead dwelling in bodily form, as the New Testament explains this enigma.  And He was the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed one promised of old to bring salvation to the sin-enslaved people of this planet.  This was His mission, His ministry.    
 
That is the only right identification of Jesus, for it’s how Jesus identified Himself.  He clearly stated that He was divine – “I and the Father are one.”  Yet He clearly understood that as a human being He must die - “The son of Man has come to give His life as ransom for many.”  Only the Lord could say such profound things; otherwise, He would have to be considered a liar or a lunatic, as C. S. Lewis asserted.  Oh, others have claimed to be god, but they are put in insane asylums diagnosed with a “messiah complex.”  Misguided followers have elevated their departed leaders to divine status after they died, making up supernatural stories about them.  Only Jesus could get away with claiming He was God among His contemporaries because He did God things.  He said it under oath on trial.  True, He got crucified for it, but He rose again to prove it. 
 
Still hard to believe, I know, how could God become man, the infinite become finite?  That’s why we need to know this statement of Peter is not a man-made deduction.  “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”  That’s how it must be and always is.  “No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit,” Paul wrote (1 Cor 10). This “faith comes from hearing, and the hearing through the word of Christ,” (Rom 10)  We are so blessed to know who Jesus really is, to be able to positively ID Him.  For “this is eternal life,” Jesus prayed, “that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”  (Jn 17)  Later Peter would declare: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Ac 4)  Indeed, this faith is the foundation of the Christian Church.
 
That’s what Jesus meant when He went on to give Simon son of Jonah a nickname: “I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”   Peter identified Jesus correctly, and Jesus identified Peter correctly.  Peter was not the rock on which Jesus would build His church, as so many have been misled to think over the centuries.  There’s a clever play on words here in Greek:  Peter (petros) means “a small stone” but “rock” (petra) is a sound-alike word referring to a large outcropping of stone.  It’s the same word Jesus used when He talked about building your house on a rock instead of sand.  The confession of faith Peter made about Christ is the foundation of Christ’s church.  Only that faith in Christ is strong enough to “prevail” against the attacks of Satan and storm “the gates of hell.” 
 
Peter was a weak, sinful person, like all of us, as the rest of the story exposes.  But the faith he professed is what has withstood the tests of time.  And those who share his faith receive “the keys of the kingdom of heaven,” as Jesus promised.  That’s the gospel power of forgiveness to set “loose” the sins of the penitent, but also to keep “bound” the sins of the impenitent as long as they do not repent, as we learn in our Catechism under the Ministry of the Keys.  It’s what we hear in the Absolution, or Announcement of Forgiveness, spoken after the Confession of Sins in our service.  We cling to that promise when we are threatened by temptation and tormented by guilt.  Only Jesus can deliver us, only Jesus can comfort us, because He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  This is the faith we continue to profess in our church and proclaim in our lives.  It’s a positive ID of Jesus in the world, the only way to be absolutely sure we are saved.  Amen.